Gulf Air says it will soon announce details of the leased 777 aircraft it will put into service on the London-Bahrain route, and rumours abound that these will be aircraft originally intended for Jet Airways.
Speaking at a lunch in association with the Guild of Travel Management executive committee, Gulf’s CEO Bjorn Naf said that the airline would announce details “very soon”, with the 777 aircraft expected to come into service in the first quarter of 2009. He added that they would be leased for three years from another airline which “had ordered them but not needed them”, and that the product would be “the very best available”.
These aircraft will bridge the gap while Gulf Air forges ahead with its refleeting process, with 13 of its 30 aircraft due to be replaced with new planes by the end of 2009. And although there has been no official announcement as yet, if the rumours on various online aviation forums are to be believed, it looks like the leased aircraft will come from Indian carrier Jet Airways.
Certainly Jet has a surplus of aircraft, having recently leased three 777-300ERs to Turkish Airlines (see online news January 12). If the rumours are true and these B777-300ERs are sourced from Jet Airways’ allocation, then Gulf Air’s premium passengers are likely to be in for a treat, as Jet’s product includes fully flat beds in business class and private suites in first.
It will also make rivals such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar sit up and take notice. After several years of watching these carriers expand and bring out superior seating products while it scaled back its services, Gulf Air now seems to have come through this period of restructuring ready to challenge its rivals as (as Naf put it) the “carrier of choice”. Among the initiatives that Naf believes will achieve this are a ten-minute car-to-airside check-in goal for premium passengers at Bahrain, with a similar 15-minutes arrivals policy, and 30 minutes for onward connections.
Gulf Air has employed James Park Associates (responsible for the business class seating on Singapore Airline’s A380s, as well as the business and first class product on the carrier’s 777-300 ER aircraft) to revamp its livery, lounge offering and of course its seating product. The airline is expected to unveil its new 600-sqm lounge at Heathrow’s T4 later in the year, with the new onboard product following in 2010.
Earlier today Naf spoke at a breakfast for business travel journalists, where he outlined plans for future Gulf Air destinations. He said the carrier was hoping to start a service to Milan and then Munich in the next couple of years but was also looking at Moscow and Russia in general, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Madrid.
He described Milan as a “powerhouse” with a catchment area of 25m people and where Etihad and Emirates were moving into and Lufthansa was building up a hub.
“These destinations are on our radar screen based on data and analysis by our network team,” he said.
He said that destinations on the east coast of America, which could include New York, Washington and Boston, would be considered when the new 777s arrive. Gulf is also in talks with the Indian government abut increasing, at first, its capacity and then its frequencies to destinations like Mumbai and Delhi.
For more information visit gulfair.com.
Report by Mark Caswell and Stanley Slaughter